Turkey’s political prisoners from the Kurdish Worker’s Party and Kurdistan Women’s Liberation Party started a hunger strike on Wednesday, joining fellow strikers in three other prisons to demand the release of their leader Abdullah Ocalan, who they say is suffering from illegal isolation and torture.
The hunger strikers are also calling for a halt in violent campaigns against Kurdish villages and scaled-up actions against a referendum that would concentrate power in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The AKP is trying to intimidate the opposition through its emergency decrees, arrests, detentions, and normalization of torture,” reads an earlier statement from PKK and PAJK spokesperson Denis Kaya, published by the Kurdish Firat News Agency.
“Every day, our friends that are exiled from one prison to another are searched naked and tortured. Our belongings are seized during the raids on our cells and the letters we write in Kurdish are not sent as they are labeled ‘unknown language.’”
It also points out that the prison where Ocalan is held was the first affected by state-of-emergency decrees passed following an attempted coup in July. Ocalan and other Kurdish political prisoners have been denied contact with lawyers and family members, and surveillance and torture practices there are being used on fellow members in other prisons, says the statement.
Political prisoners had previously launched hunger strikes for Ocalan: 28 inmates in Izmir are closing in on a month-long strike, while six in Edirne are entering their 20th day, and 10 in Van are in their second week.
Kurds all over Turkey and Europe, which hosts a sizeable refugee population, have been leading protests all month against an upcoming referendum to change the constitution into a presidential system to consolidate power in Erdogan. Over one in three Kurds will boycott the vote, according to a poll last week.
The statement said the move is orchestrated by the ruling AKP, which Erdogan founded, in alliance with the nationalist Islamic MHP.
The strikes will continue, as will protests, as “we will continue to reject this fascist and racist system and put up resistance.”
Turkey has been accused of serious human rights abuses in its fight against Kurdish forces in the country’s southeast. After a ceasefire broke down between Turkey and the PKK in 2015, thousands of people – mostly Kurds – have been killed or jailed with hundreds of thousands displaced, according to a United Nations report released on Friday.